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Tech Savvy: Technology's place in the classroom

Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! This week the new school year started, we have a first-grader in our house now and I’m sure many of you out there have young ones of your own heading back to class. Something that has really amazed me since our oldest started school is the amount of technology that is integrated into our education system now and I thought this might be a good time to chat a little about some of the ways we are seeing technology used in the classroom and how we can supplement that learning at home.

I am a firm believer that as parents we are as responsible for our children’s education as the school system, if not more. We have opportunities every day that we can teach our children about nature, science and myriad other subjects. If you’re like me you may feel that you have a pretty good grasp on many of these (spelling, history, earth science) but may admit that there are areas that you are not a top notch instructor (math, chemistry). So, what do we do when our children come home from school with questions about the things they are learning in the classroom? How can we keep the ball rolling, or at the very least avoid giving incorrect information that contradicts what they are being taught?

In my youth in elementary and high school we always had computers available, desktops in computer labs and eventually one or two computers in each classroom. The computer labs were used to teach typing and we used games like Number Munchers and Oregon Trail to teach fundamentals and for fun. By the time I reached high school the Internet was readily available and use of the computer labs took a much more academic turn. We still used encyclopedias but increasingly we were allowed to use websites as sources for our research papers. I attended the U of M in Crookston for college, and part of their academic culture was to include laptop rental with the tuition. We used these laptops for research, note taking, presentations and virtually every aspect of our academic lives. It’s amazing that now, as my child starts school, they are using iPods and iPads in the classes and that, in increasing numbers, those devices are becoming standard issue from the schools. Forestview is also incorporating Google Chromebooks for their student body, which is another device that is gaining popularity in the education system.

In many cases these devices are being used by the students for learning situations that can present the information in new ways. I have to chuckle remembering in seventh grade we dissected a frog and now they can dissect the frog virtually with an app. You can recreate battlefields and run strategic scenarios, budding musicians have a bevy of tools to aid in their learning and creativity, artists can visit the top galleries in the world right from their classroom and presentations have taken on a whole new level with the different apps available.

A large benefit of using these devices in the academic system is it is that much easier for the students to share with their parents and continue the learning process at home. This also gives you the opportunity to become more involved with your child’s work. Here are some suggestions to help you embrace the technology as these kids are doing.

• Don’t be afraid. It’s different and you may not understand everything out of the gate but sometimes kids can be great teachers, too, because the give simple instructions. If you don’t understand the technology they are using, ask them to help you learn, too. I’ll bet your kids would love the opportunity to be in the driver’s seat for a change and it will give you a chance to really dig into their world.

• Be open-minded about the method. The way we use the apps and materials is sometimes a complete turnaround from everything we learned in our youth and it’s easy to say that it must not be as effective. However, as the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat and this is certainly the case here. Have you ever found yourself saying that two eyes are better than one? Sometimes taking a different approach or angle will enlighten you to things you never would have noticed before.

• Share your expertise. The converse of new being great is sometimes you miss out on some real basics. One thing teachers are certainly aware of, and something I really emphasize to my kids, is that you need to have a backup plan. If your iPad breaks can you still add and subtract? Do you still know how to find common denominators and complete long division if you can’t Google it? If your Internet goes down where can you find a map of the battle of Gettysburg? I try to take every opportunity to share with my kids why the tech is making this process so great. I still draw things out in the dirt, or on scrap pieces of paper to show them the “behind the scenes” that the app sometimes doesn’t show them. Since I’ve been using adages — give a man a fish he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. We can’t rely on tech to teach us everything we need to know. Use your life experience and old fashioned know-how to work with our teachers to give our kids a well-rounded experience.

• Be an expert with them. Tech is fun. There are so many possibilities that tech can offer us now. I love learning about the new things that tech can offer and I love using tech to learn about things that I might not have the chance to learn otherwise. I have noticed that the art apps don’t make my stick people look any better but it’s great knowing that if my kids ask me a question I don’t know the answer I have the answer (and I can learn with them) right at my fingertips.

Tech is a great tool that can now help us bridge the gap even more between in-class work and home education. It also gives us an opportunity to learn and share with our children and we should embrace the chance. We can ill afford not to strive to help our children get the best education they can, our future depends on it. To all the teachers, educators (especially all of my teachers), and parents out there, thank you. Thanks for taking the time to work with our children and help them grow up to be an educated society.

In case you missed it

Earlier this week it was announced that Microsoft was buying Nokia for a little over $7 billion. I don’t really find it surprising if you look at the other two giants — Android and Apple — and they both have acquired their other side, Android buying Motorola and Apple having, well, Apple. What I do find interesting is that Android and Apple you have two market dominating factions and Microsoft’s mobile is not the powerhouse the others are. What will be interesting to see is if the (arguably) world’s largest office suite and OS creator can leverage that clout into something that drives their mobile program. Nokia is no slouch when it comes to hardware but by aligning themselves primarily with Windows OS they have limited themselves. I would be wary of Microsoft deciding to use Nokia like Google has Motorola — as an extension of themselves or if they will let Nokia maintain a more individual identity to capitalize on their existing business base.